Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: Booking mugs give political campaigns an entirely different look

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva is escorted by an Amador County sheriff’s deputy after being released on bail from the Amador County jail in Jackson on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Silva declared his innocence Friday and said he never endangered children amid allegations that he made a secret audio recording of a strip game at a youth camp run by him.
Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva is escorted by an Amador County sheriff’s deputy after being released on bail from the Amador County jail in Jackson on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Silva declared his innocence Friday and said he never endangered children amid allegations that he made a secret audio recording of a strip game at a youth camp run by him. The Record (Stockton)

You’re running for public office with the election just about three months away.

But instead of mugging with voters in photo ops on the campaign trail, you find yourself posing for a booking mug at a county jail.

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva, long a lightning rod for controversy in his home city, experienced the latter this week when federal and local authorities arrested him at the city’s Silver Lake Youth Camp on an array of charges. They claim he played strip poker with teens, gave them alcohol and recorded it without their permission, among other allegations. It’s just another entry on an ever-growing list of problems for the 41-year-old trying for a second term as mayor.

His arrest came as prosecutors say he is stonewalling investigators who want to talk to him about a gun stolen from his home and used in the slaying of a Stockton teen in 2015. Last fall, the Department of Homeland Security seized his computers and cellphone at San Francisco International Airport as he returned from a trip to China. He also was detained by police and handcuffed, though not charged, after being involved in a fight in a limousine in December 2014.

In 2013, the Stockton Boys & Girls Club’s charter was revoked over how money was raised and spent under his leadership, and he also was accused of a sexual impropriety, though no charge was filed.

In short, Silva keeps crime and City Hall beat reporters at The Record of Stockton, and opinion editors, very busy. The paper called for his resignation in Friday’s editions.

Still, candidates facing criminal charges during election cycles is nothing new. Invariably, the politicians claim they are the victims of political prosecutions aimed at keeping them out of, or eradicating them from, office. Prosecutors invariably maintain they file charges based on evidence and nothing else.

Stockton, in this election, hit the daily double. Sam Fant, an African American running for a seat on the same council, is fighting felony fraud and conspiracy charges. He’s accused of helping a couple of candidates lie about their addresses to win seats on the Manteca school board. Those board members are facing criminal charges as well. Fant claims the charges are politically motivated.

“This office does not base decisions on race, religion, gender or political aspirations” San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar said in a prepared statement when Fant was charged in April. “Any suggestion otherwise is unsupported and without merit. The decision to charge is not taken lightly.”

And already a heavy favorite, Verber-Salazar’s bid to become district attorney in 2014 certainly didn’t suffer when her opponent, Gary Hickey, was arrested twice on suspicion of DUI during the campaign.

By comparison, Stanislaus County can feel pretty good that none of its current politicians are facing criminal charges or are under indictment, right? Current pols, yes. But this county has had its share of election-time charges as well.

In August 2003, then-Stanislaus County District Attorney Jim Brazelton charged Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino with 11 felony counts including perjury. Sabatino immediately complained the charges were politically motivated and engineered by his enemies, including real estate mogul Mike Zagaris and then-county Supervisor Ray Simon. Sabatino continued to campaign, but failed to make the runoff in which Jim Ridenour defeated Bev Finley for mayor.

The case went to court and ended in mistrials with the jury votes ranging from 7-5 to 10-2, mostly to convict, according to some of the jurors. Birgit Fladager, who followed Brazelton as district attorney in 2006 and inherited the problem, chose not to retry the case.

In 2004, Brazelton lost a case involving Hughson Mayor Bart Conner, who admitted to using his city credit card to make personal purchases, but later repaid the city. A jury acquitted Conner of one felony count, but he lost his bid for re-election to Thomas Crowder.

More recently, Patterson Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten served while under a restraining order to stay more than 100 yards away from Dennis McCord – who accused her of threatening to kill him – except during the council meetings in which she sat right next to him. The council removed her from the panel before her term expired after determining she no longer lived within the city limit.

And the ongoing murder trial of prominent defense attorney Frank Carson certainly contains accusations with political overtones.

Investigators searched Carson’s Turlock property July 2012 in connection with the investigation into the slaying of Korey Kauffman. Carson, long a pain in prosecutors’ backsides with his courtroom demeanor and disdain for the District Attorney’s Office, then challenged Fladager in 2014 for her job, already knowing he was at the very least a person of interest in the slaying investigation. He said during the campaign he wanted to dispel rumors of involvement in Kauffman’s death, but that attorney-client privilege prevented him from discussing any details he might have learned while representing defendants.

The only reason it wasn’t more prominent as a campaign issue was that Fladager famously hesitates to talk about any case – in the works, ongoing or whenever an appeal is possible.

From the moment in August 2015 when he became one of the defendants charged in the Kauffman case, Carson’s supporters – including Sabatino – have claimed he is a victim of political prosecution and therefore a victim of prosecutorial misconduct as well. The preliminary hearing is dragging into its eighth month.

As for Stockton’s beleaguered Mayor Silva, his legal battle is just beginning. The election is in November. He said he won’t resign. His opponent, Councilman Michael Tubbs, just received a gift not unlike what District Attorney Verber-Salazar got when her opponent was arrested twice during the campaign.

An incumbent’s fate just shifted from the will of the voters to 12 people in a jury box.

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